Audiovisual Patreon, the gold mine for freelance artists: "It allowed me to create a community in just two clicks"

In 2013, singer-songwriter and YouTuber Jack Conte was looking for a solution to his problem: his music videos had millions of views, but his bank account only received a few hundred dollars

Audiovisual Patreon, the gold mine for freelance artists: "It allowed me to create a community in just two clicks"

In 2013, singer-songwriter and YouTuber Jack Conte was looking for a solution to his problem: his music videos had millions of views, but his bank account only received a few hundred dollars. He came up with the idea of ​​creating a website where his fans could pay him directly for enjoying his content. He sketched out a draft of the project and showed it to a college classmate, Sam Yam. In six weeks, the two students brought their dream platform to life. Ten years after its creation, Patreon has solved the same problem that Conte had in his day for more than 250,000 creators. Between all of them they add up an income close to 3,200 million euros thanks to the so-called "patrons".

For those to whom the word patronage sounds like a practice from another time, Patreon has brought it to web 3.0. The platform is committed to subscriptions as a formula to promote the talent of thousands of creators: audiovisual artists, podcasters, musicians, designers, writers, journalists and freelance photographers who have found a useful way to monetize their work on it.

Its business proposal, decentralized and focused on the content creators themselves, combines crowdfunding with a kind of paywall that rivals more established websites. "Today, the barriers between content producers and consumers have blurred. Everyone has access to these platforms, it's just a matter of finding a niche to cover," says Chema Valero, researcher and professor of Journalism at the Miguel Hernández University. .

"The platform is really useful when it comes to generating alternative income. Patreon does not help you gain visibility, because you are the one who has to do the effort to generate traffic, but, as an entrepreneur, it allows you to take advantage of the subscription model in a way simple and intuitive", clarifies Juan Merodio, founder of the TEKDI Institute and one of the leading experts in online business in Spain and Latin America. He himself worked with Patreon for three years, long enough to see how the service represents "a revolution in the creator economy." He assures Valero that "to publish content and earn quick money, it is no longer necessary to have large infrastructures."

Back in 2008, Kevin Kelly -founder of the influential Wired magazine- exposed his theory on how a relatively small, but loyal and committed audience could support any creator on the internet. His concept, that of "1,000 true fans", serves as the basis for the activity of all those independent professionals who manage to connect with a group of people willing enough to contribute to their project.

The deal is simple: they offer their followers something they can't find elsewhere in exchange for a token monthly payment. Faced with the blockbuster culture, Kelly proposed a particular model, "capable of sustaining a business thanks solely to the support of a solid community," according to Valero. "This is viable for any audiovisual production, but it can also be viable in the long run for a means of communication."

Patreon allowed me to create a community in just two clicks and get content to market in less than three hours.

"Patreon seemed to me the easiest tool to validate a business idea, and even more so as a new freelancer," explains Itziar Oltra, founder of Todo es Marketing. In 2022, she opted for the platform because it allowed her to "build a community in a couple of clicks, without the need to know how to program, and launch the content on the market in less than three hours." Four months later, she had a base of 380 patrons interested in learning about advertising, whose contributions generated income of more than 2,000 euros per month.

In his decades of life, the most striking case of a freelance from the Patreon quarry in Spain is that of Matthew Bennet, a journalist of British origin who began to publish original chronicles about Spanish idiosyncrasies on the platform. After a few months, he had the sustained financial support of more than half a thousand people. According to data provided by Patreon, his newspaper articles reported him up to 4,000 euros per month. "You can earn a lot of money if you attract the attention of a public hooked on the exclusive content that you upload in secret", says Merodio, for whom this "privilege-based membership system" is really effective for small content creators. On the other hand, he points out that it is a model "little used outside of Anglo-Saxon countries", since Hispanics "are used to having access to everything for free".

"It is an advantageous model, since it generates professional opportunities for minority content creators, especially those who provide information that is not covered in such depth by the general media," Valero considers. Giving these communicators a voice, and enabling them to earn a living from it, is the primary goal of Acast, the world's largest independent podcast company.

This service of Swedish origin hosts more than 92,000 different programs, landed in Spain last year and, since 2020, has an integration with Patreon that allows "simplifying the subscription process for listeners who access it from any listening app, as well as the uploading of public and private audio content for filmmakers", in the words of Megan Davies, Acast's director of international business. "We believe in the open ecosystem, in putting the creator first."

We believe in the open ecosystem, in putting the creator first

Patreon is also attended by those fleeing the tyranny of political correctness. Artists, filmmakers or writers who, due to the theme or focus of their content, are regularly censored by the algorithm of social networks such as Instagram and Facebook or websites such as YouTube. The migration of feminist activists to the platform is increasingly significant, in search of freedom to address controversial issues such as transsexuality or prostitution. "On Patreon there are channels with sexual content that would be banned on other sites. There is no limitation to freedom of expression as long as you notify what it is about," says Merodio.

Elvire Duvelle-Charles, author of the documentary series Clit Revolution, took to Patreon questioning Instagram's moderation policy after her personal account was shut down. She wanted to maintain a healthier relationship with her content in a safe environment, and she succeeded. For the documentary filmmaker, Patreon is "a place where you feel at home, far from the violence and the judgment of the algorithm." "People who don't like what I do won't pay to swear, and that allows me to continue producing quality content for a smaller, but tighter community," she says.

On Patreon there are channels with content that would be banned on other sites, freedom is total

The creator, however, does not receive 100% of the income derived from their content from Patreon. The service offers different subscription levels, from the most basic to the premium plan, "something similar to Netflix," explains Merodio. It also performs intermediation functions that entail the collection of a rate "not very low, but reasonable", in the words of Oltra. "In my case they kept 8%, plus an additional 3% when making the transfer to my account in a single payment. But it's worth it, because they themselves manage the VAT issue and issue invoices to customers; it was much easier than taking care of everything from scratch".

The marketing expert speaks in the past of Patreon because her present is different. Thanks to the momentum of the platform, she felt confident enough to launch the project on her own. "Everything is Marketing started as a crazy idea, as a hobby that I have had for years. Now I can make a living from it." As of today, she is supported by 260 subscribers on her own website, while fifty people continue to consume Oltra's content on Patreon "residually".

Movements to support independent creators via a committed audience have been spreading like wildfire on platforms like Twitch or Discord. Part of the merit goes to the consolidation of a personal brand, valuable enough for people to be interested in what they offer and for their projects to gain resonance. Davies says that at Acast they have recently launched Acast, "a Patreon-like subscription system for author profiles" that allows podcasters to maximize their income in different ways, "mainly through membership and advertising."

According to data from this platform, creators have increased their monthly income by 29%; While the conversion rate from free users to paid listeners is around 2%, the percentage is higher if extra episodes or content are offered. In this sense, Merodio considers that "if you are a creator who generates income of more than 5,000 euros, the most profitable thing is to remove your project from Patreon once you have established yourself in the digital landscape." Abandoning social networks completely is not, in any case, an option: open publications continue to be the main asset for attracting the attention of new subscribers. "It is important to continue producing free content and reach a very wide audience, but we also want to be among our own and lean on them," summarizes the activist Duvelle-Charles. Simple as that.

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